Thai authorities will spend the next several days sifting through a massive cache of explosives, missiles and other weapons seized from a plane from North Korea in a case that could offer new details about the secretive country's involvement in the international illicit weapons trade.
hai officials detained the plane and its five crew members late Friday after they landed at Bangkok's Don Muang airport for refueling. Although the final destination of the plane remained unclear, a Thai government spokesman said it was scheduled to land next in Sri Lanka for further refueling and was possibly headed to another location after that.
The detention of the cargo is among the first executed against North Korea by a United Nations member country since the U.N. Security Council in June created new rules designed to halt Pyongyang's ability to sell and transport arms. The rules were developed after the country tested a nuclear explosive in late May in defiance of previous U.N. sanctions.
Thai Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said Thai authorities had been tracking the plane for several days in conjunction with investigative agencies from "several countries," though he did not name them. Local media reported that U.S. officials were involved in the mission, but a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Bangkok declined to comment.
The Ilyushin 76 transport plane was registered in Georgia but flew to Bangkok from Pyongyang, Thai officials said. Its cargo – which was later transferred to a Thai military base – included rocket-propelled grenades, components for surface-to-air missiles, and explosives, according to the Associated Press, which cited Thai officials. There were no immediate indications that it included materials or equipment related to the manufacture of nuclear weapons, but Thai authorities said it could take a several more days to fully examine the plane's contents.
The crew, including four citizens of Kazakhstan and one from Belarus, were charged with illegal possession of arms in Thailand. A police spokesman said the men did not yet have lawyers and that they had denied any knowledge there were weapons on board. They were expected to appear before a Thai judge on Monday.
North Korea is one of the world's most impoverished countries, and it relies on arms shipments for a sizable portion of its foreign income. Some analysts estimate it reaps several hundred million dollars annually from arms trading.